Meditation has many research-backed benefits for both your physical and mental health, such as reduced stress and chronic pain.
While it has its roots in Eastern spiritual traditions, meditation has now made its way fully into mainstream psychology.
There are so many different types of meditation, but they all require you to use specific techniques to train your mind, increase focus, and reach a calm state of mind.
Meditation doesn’t just improve your spiritual health. Research shows that it has extensive benefits for both the mind and the body.
One of the biggest evidence-backed benefits of meditation is that it reduces stress. Many extensive reviews have found that meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, is very effective in helping people manage stress levels in a healthy way.
A 2016 study, for example, found that participants who practiced mindfulness meditation reported significantly lower levels of stress and higher levels of hope.
Many types of meditation have been found to actually alter brain chemistry and structure in ways that reduce stress.
For example, a 2020 review found that people who received meditation-based interventions experienced a significant reduction in cortisol, a hormone that’s released during times of stress.
Meditation was especially beneficial for people living in high-stress situations.
Some types of meditation can also improve your cognitive functioning, especially memory and concentration.
One randomized trial found that just 4 weeks of daily, 13-minute meditation sessions improved:
- working memory
- recognition memory
Another study examined the effects of mindfulness meditation on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The research found that the children who participated in mindfulness training 3 times a week experienced improvements in focus, attention span, academic skills, and more.
Although meditation alone may not be enough to manage an anxiety disorder, especially when symptoms are severe, it can definitely help.
One 2019 study suggests that meditation is more effective than relaxation strategies when it comes to helping people manage anxiety.
A 2022 randomized controlled trial found that meditation-based intervention, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, was equally as effective as anti-anxiety medication (Lexapro) for treating anxiety.
Most types of meditation require you to turn inward and be present with yourself.
Mindfulness meditation, in particular, invites you to sit with anything that may be happening in the present moment – including painful thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
When you spend time with yourself in this way, it’s natural that your self-awareness will improve. People who meditate regularly show higher levels of introspection, according to a 2020 study.
Many types of meditation can prevent dementia, memory loss, and cognitive decline as people age.
The researchers found that a regular long-term meditation practice led to an increase in gray matter volume in areas of the brain responsible for executive functioning.
Meditating before bedtime may help you get better sleep and fight insomnia, research shows. Most studies around sleep and meditation have been conducted on mindfulness meditation specifically.
For example, one randomized controlled trial from 2014 found that people who received a mindfulness-based intervention had significantly improved sleep and reduced insomnia.
If you’re using meditation to help you sleep, you may want to consider meditation types that are relaxing rather than energizing. For example, many guided meditations use colors, imagery, or other relaxation techniques to help you fall asleep.
Meditating on a regular basis alters neural pathways and brain structure, which may make you less sensitive to pain.
For example, one study from 2016 found that mindfulness meditation increases the body’s production of endogenous opioids – which act as a natural painkiller.
And even if meditating doesn’t reduce your pain, it can help you be more at peace with pain, which then, in turn, can improve your overall functioning.
By gaining insight into your thoughts – and the way these thoughts lead to uncomfortable feelings – you can interrupt the cycle of rumination that often comes along with depression.
Many evidence-based treatments for depression incorporate meditation and other mindfulness practices, including:
- mindfulness-based cognitive therapy
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
Meditating regularly may also help you be more empathetic toward others and – consequently – improve your interpersonal relationships.
Meditation may improve marital and romantic relationships as well. In a 2022 study, meditators reported significantly higher marital satisfaction than non-meditators.
In addition, a meta-analysis from 2016 found a significant relationship between mindfulness, specifically relationship satisfaction.
Lastly, meditation can lower your blood pressure and improve your overall heart health. This is an important benefit because high blood pressure is linked to many serious health conditions including stroke, heart failure, and more.
High blood pressure is highly linked with chronic stress, so part of why meditation works so well for lowering blood pressure has to do with the way in which it decreases stress.
Whether you’re experienced with meditation or a meditation newbie, there are so many benefits to meditation that anyone can experience.
Best of all, meditation is accessible to anyone at any time; it doesn’t require any equipment, memberships, or financial investments to get started.
For more information on how to incorporate meditation into your daily routine, consider visiting Psych Central’s resource page.